October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month – so how can the latest research help women take preventative action to reduce their risks? We highlight simple tips from the experts.
Prevention is key in the fight against breast cancer
Breast cancer remains the most common form of cancer in the UAE. According to recent government data, it accounts for almost 23 per cent of all cancer cases, and studies suggest that women here are likely to contract the disease 10 years earlier than they do in Europe or the US.
With this month’s global focus on awareness of the disease, its symptoms and treatments, the subject of preventive measures is one that merits discussion too.
“There are steps women can take to reduce their risk of cancers including breast cancer, though with this disease nothing is certain,” explains Dr Rachel Thompson, the deputy head of science at the World Cancer Research Fund (WCRF). The WCRF provides advice on cancer prevention based upon a landmark world cancer report – drawn from a review of 7,000 studies. Through its Constant Updating Project, the WCRF also reviews new evidence in cancer prevention and advises women of behavioural changes they can adopt to reduce their risk of contracting breast cancer.
Watch your diet
Studies show: being overweight can increase a number of cancer risks.
What the experts say: WCRF advisers say that choosing foods that are lower in “energy density” can help women to get as lean as possible, without being underweight.
Energy what? “Energy density relates to how many calories foods contain relative to their weight,” says Thompson. Highly energy-dense foods contain more than 225-275 kcal per 100g – they include fast foods, crisps, butter and other spreads.
Tip to take: “Think about portion sizes,” says Thompson. “Try to
make two thirds (or more) of your plate plant foods such as vegetables and fruits, as well as wholegrains and pulses such as beans. Just one third of your plate should be lean meat, reduced-fat dairy, fish or poultry.”
Activate your defences
Studies show: published last summer in Cancer, the journal of the American Cancer Society, a new study of 1,500 women found that exercise – mild or intense and before or after menopause – was linked to a 30 per cent lower incidence of breast cancer, and that women who exercised 10 to 19 hours per week experienced the greatest benefit.
What the experts say: “Physical activity can boost the body’s immune system, providing a defence against diseases including breast cancer,” says Thompson.
So how much exercise? ideally aim to get at least 30 minutes of exercise as part of your everyday routine.
Tip to take: partnering up with a friend to work out is an additional way to motivate you to not miss out on gym sessions and stick to an exercise plan.
Studies show: insufficient sleep may be a contributing factor to a more aggressive form of the disease if you’re already at risk of it. A new study published in the medical journal Breast Cancer Research and Treatment – following reports from two US cancer research centres – revealed a link between patients who got six hours or less sleep a night and their likelihood of the cancer reoccurring.
What the experts say: researchers concluded that insufficient sleep may cause more aggressive tumours.
There’s more: an additional study has linked night-shift work as a risk factor, too – but more research continues into the causes of this association.
Tip to take: work, sleep and eat at the right time of the day – and resist burning the midnight oil.
Lower your food fat intake
Studies show: the European Prospective Investigation into Nutrition and Cancer reports that eating a higher-fat diet significantly increases the risk of breast cancer – women who had a 35 per cent and 39 per cent fat diet were at a greater risk than those eating a 31 per cent fat diet.
What the experts say: scientists suggest that a high-fat diet may raise levels of the hormone oestrogen, a factor that’s associated with the disease.
Top tip: researchers at the University of California San Francisco say you should aim for close to 20 per cent of your total calories from fat, with less than eight per cent of total calories from saturated fat.
Eat this, not that
More tea ...
According to a UCSF round-up of cancer factors, green tea has nutrients known as polyphenols within it that may have anti-cancer properties. A number of studies have indicated that polyphenols may reduce the damage to cells that cause cancer and also increases the body’s immune system response, possibly decreasing the risk of breast cancer by 22 per cent. However, these supposed links are subject to much debate in the scientific community, since the evidence
is not conclusive.
... less sweets
The consumption of sweet foods could put you at greater risk according to an Italian study of around 2,500 breast cancer patients. It revealed that women with the highest intake of sweets and high GI food (including biscuits, cakes and sugars) had a 19 per cent greater risk, possibly linked to changes in insulin levels within the body.
Breastfeeding is best
“The WCRF follows guidance from the World Health Organisation and from Unicef in recommending that women breastfeed their babies until they are six months old,” says Thompson.
In the findings of the WCRF Expert Study, breastfeeding was found to lower the levels of some cancer-related hormones in the body and can help the body cleanse itself of cells that may have DNA damage – possibly reducing the risk of breast cancer developing in the future.
What you eat can hurt you, but it can also help you. Research suggests these foods can slow down the growth of breast cancer
Rich in the powerful antioxidant glutathione
Converts a cancer-promoting oestrogen into a more protective variety
Contain a lot of beta carotene
A rich source of resveratrol, which inhibits the enzymes that stimulate cancer-cell growth
Has indoles – nitrogen compounds that may help stop the conversion of certain lesions to cancerous cells
Contain many vitamins, minerals, plant compounds and antioxidants known as anthocyanins that may protect against cancer
Contain lycopene, an antioxidant that attacks roaming oxygen molecules, known as free radicals, that are suspected of triggering cancer
Research suggests that walnuts contain healthy fatty acids that slow down the growth of breast cancer